Can't bike in the snow? Try snowshoeing

Snowshoeing will be one of this winter's hottest trends  Credit: Nathan Bilow/Allsport
Imagine this: Surrounded by snowfields and snow-covered hills, you are about to attempt a grueling workout. You're partaking in the newest and hottest winter craze cross-training sport snowshoeing.

With your feet strapped to snowshoes, this won't be an ordinary winter workout.

Snowshoeing doesn't require special skills, expensive lessons or groomed trails. Today's snowshoes used for racing or as cross-training tools are made of lightweight, space-age metals and synthetic webbing, and are about 8 inches wide and 2 feet long. A pair may weigh less than 2 pounds.

The only other requirements are warm clothes and the desire to get in some great exercise.

The combination of physical exertion and fun have Skip Hamilton, coach at the Carpenter/Phinney Cycling Camps, recommending snowshoeing to many cyclists and mountain bikers.

Hamilton, an accomplished mountain biker and personal coach to many top riders on the mountain bike circuit, is a veteran snowshoer.

"For cross-training in winter," Hamilton says, "Snowshoeing is an excellent training option. You use many of the same muscles as in cycling, it's a great aerobic workout and does not subject one to the injuries of running."

Compared to road running, running in snowshoes involves lower knee carriage, shorter strides and harder arm pumping. The lower body range of motion is similar to that used in cycling.

If you have never snowshoed, first find a trail with packed snow, or loose snow that is only a few inches deep.

The first lesson is to keep your strides compact, and in a matter of a few outings you will have developed a natural rhythm and will be able to cover terrain that is not accessible on skis.

Some athletes use poles when the snow is deep or the terrain is uneven. Poles may be a hindrance when running, but when making steep ascents, the use of poles may aid in providing extra thrust.

Frozen and snow covered lakes are huge flat tracks and are highways for speed work and intervals.

Ski areas and hills become playgrounds and offer you lung-searing vertical climbs and downhills. The claw on the bottom of the shoe gives traction for climbing, so you can attack even the steepest hills with only your cardiovascular system as the limiting factor.

Your quadriceps will feel like you are riding up a steep hill during a power workout. Running downhill is really fun. The snow gives you a smooth surface to run on, and if you fall, so what?

Just get up and keep going. According to Hamilton, "Snowshoe running is low-impact, easy to do and addictive."

Snowshoe racers train with intervals, hill work and distance runs the same tools you use in road training.

"Interval workouts completed on uphill slopes simulate tough power workouts as used in off-road cycling," Andre Bozell, a winner of the Vail Mountain Man and a member of the winning team at the 1998 Eco Challenge, said.

If you choose to buy, snowshoes are moderately expensive: from about $200 for the training models to over $300 for racing shoes.

For most individuals, a one-time purchase will last them several seasons. Ray Browning, fitness program director of Tubbs snowshoes, explains the popularity of why many cyclists are using the lighter weight shoes.

"When using larger wooden shoes you lose maneuverability and because you are not carrying heavy loads you still have excellent floatation with smaller shoes.

Additionally, with larger shoes you cannot replicate running and power hiking because after they sink into the snow the tips become covered with snow and makes them heavier to pick up.

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